United States v. Williams, No. 09-5256 (6th Cir. 2011)Annotate this Case
While serving a sentence for planting a pipe-bomb that killed his stepfather, the defendant mailed a letter containing a substance purported to be anthrax to the judge who denied his habeas corpus petition. After representing himself at trial, he was convicted of mailing a threatening communication to a federal judge (18 U.S.C. 876). The district court did not obtain a presentence report and conducted the sentencing hearing by video conference because of concerns that the defendant would be difficult to control. The defendant and his appointed counsel did not object. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction, stating that the letter amounted to a threat even though the danger from anthrax is immediate, not in the future, but vacated the sentence. Although the video conference worked well, it is not a substitute for physical presence; the government did not establish that the error was harmless. The district court also erred in relying on the defendant’s waiver of a presentence report, absent a finding that a report was not necessary. The record indicated that the defendant knowingly waived the right to counsel at trial and the court was not required to provide him with funds to purchase non-prison clothing for trial.